Coach: Paul Chryst (0-0, entering first season; 19-19 overall)
2014 record: 11-3, 7-1 in Big Ten Conference; first in West Division
Look back: Wisconsin went into last season with just 10 returning starters, but the Badgers exceeded the expectations by winning 11 games and going 7-1 in the Big Ten. The team captured the West Division, but the Badgers were embarrassed by Ohio State 59-0 in the conference championship game. Even more troubling was Gary Andersen’s decision to leave the school for Oregon State after just two seasons as head coach. Former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez mentored the team during its bowl game – a 34-31 overtime triumph over Auburn. Alvarez scored another win by bringing former Wisconsin assistant coach Paul Chryst back to the program as the new coach.
Offensive starters returning: 5
Offensive starters lost: 6
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: RB Melvin Gordon, OL Dallas Lewallen, OL Rob Havenstein, OL Kyle Costigan, TE Sam Sarneson, DE Warren Herring, S Paniel Jean, LB Derek Landisch, LB Marcus Trotter, NG Konrad Zagzebski
Top returnees: QB Joel Stave, OL Dan Voltz, WR Alex Erickson, OL Tyler Marz, LB Vince Biegel, SS Michael Caputo, CB Darius Hillary, DE Chikwe Obasih, LB Joe Schobert, CB Sojourn Shelton
Strengths: Running back Melvin Gordon powered Wisconsin’s ground attack, making the Badgers the top rushing team in the Big Ten and one of only three teams with more than 4,000 rushing yards last season. Gordon led the nation in rushing, tallying 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns, and his departure leaves Wisconsin looking for a new featured back. The Badgers may not have to look far. Junior Corey Clement rushed 949 yards and nine touchdowns while sharing some of the rushing load with Gordon last season.
“I think Corey has got a clear expectation of what it is to be the running back at Wisconsin,” Chryst said during the Big Ten’s media days. “I think I also have had some great conversation with Corey and that he knows who he is and he knows that he doesn’t have to be Melvin. . . . And so I like where he’s at right now. I think he’s excited for this next step in his progression as a player.”
Perhaps the biggest recruiting win for Chryst was keeping defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. The Badgers finished second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (20.8 points per games) and total defense (294.1 yards per game). The team placed third in the league in sacks (37). Aranda will have 20 lettermen back, including seven starters from last season. Safety Michael Caputo, who led the team in tackles (106), returns to anchor a secondary that is one of the most experienced in the Big Ten. Versatile Tanner McEvoy, who previously played receiver and started the first five games at quarterback last season, is moving to the safety position.
Weaknesses: Wisconsin will hit the reset button with quarterback Joel Stave. The senior signal caller has endured highs and lows with the Badgers, but the hope is Stave can find the consistency that’s been lacking in his game with the help of Chryst and new offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph. Last season, Stave completed just 53 percent of his passes for 1,350 yards and nine touchdowns. He also threw 10 interceptions, including six in the final two games against Ohio State and Auburn.
Wisconsin’s offensive line has been one of its biggest assets thanks to a group of five starters who never missed a start in 2014. Senior Tyler Martz and junior Dan Voltz are the only returning starters in 2015 and they’ll be counted on to mentor a group looking to build cohesion.
Outlook: We’ll find out just how good Wisconsin is when the Badgers open the season against Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Badgers are 10-point underdogs against the Crimson Tide. The defense should be solid again, but the offense will need to work through some issues.
Sept. 5 vs. Alabama (in Arlington)
Sept. 12 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 19 Troy
Sept. 26 Hawaii
Oct. 3 Iowa
Oct. 10 at Nebraska
Oct. 17 Purdue
Oct. 24 at Illinois
Oct. 31 Rutgers
Nov. 7 at Maryland
Nov. 21 Northwestern
Nov. 28 at Minnesota
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com